Customer Needs Assessment | Practical guide [2023]

How to conduct a Customer Needs Assessment

If you want to create a new product or feel that you do not solve your customer's problems, then a customer needs assessment is an absolute must. Understanding your consumer is the most critical foundation for business success. 34% of startups fail because they do not solve the customer's problems fast or well enough.

But even if a company already has happy consumers, customer needs are still a central tool to increase satisfaction, adoption, and in conclusion your revenue. 

It is tempting to just start creating a new product or service because you believe you already understand what is expected and needed in the market. But I strongly advise not to make that mistake as it will lead to failure or at least slower growth rates. 

It might sound overwhelming to analyze all the needs and problems you want to solve for your users. But in this article, I will show you a step-by-step guide on how to conduct customer needs analysis in a very practical way.

What is a Customer Needs Assessment?

Before we dive deep into the hands-on steps of conducting your research we need to briefly define what we are about to do. A customer needs assessment is just a structured research project with the single purpose of understanding the motivation of potential buyers. 

A very interesting concept that is very helpful in understanding needs from another perspective is the jobs-to-be-done framework by Clayton Christensen. According to this theory, a consumer does not buy your solution but hires it for a certain job or task. 

The framework says that when you are ordering food from a delivery service you are hiring the restaurant for the task of cooking food and the delivery service for the task of picking it up. 

Of course in reality customer needs are not always that obvious and can vary greatly between different user groups. In many cases, they are not purely functional. Some of the most unexpected needs are likely emotional or social. The types of needs will be covered later in the article. For now, it is just important to know that they could take almost any shape of human desires. 

How to conduct a Customer Needs Assessment?

No matter if your business is already established, brand new, online or offline the steps shown below will be the same. Only your methods and the effort needed may vary.  

Step 1: Define a Target Audience

Before you can start engaging with your potential customers you need to define who your target audience should be. There are a lot of approaches to do that but here is my recommendation to shortcut further reading:

  • If you have customers already you should use existing data to find common patterns for your most active customers. Analytics data of your website can show you regional and demographic details to give a first overview. A survey is a great tool to uncover the most common traits your audience shares. Focus on information that you need to know to reach that target group later. If you have no idea what to ask in a survey, usually means that you should start interviewing first, because there are too many unknowns about your consumers. 
  • If you have no customers yet you could just create a group of potential consumers by creating a website that shows your solution or service. To get noticed you then run ads to attract visitors. If you would post it in social media groups you would already pre-select your target audience and risk missing a great part of your potential buyers. The website visitors then could be surveyed or asked for an interview to find out who they are. 

It is a bad idea to skip this step because you will later need to know if you covered all the characteristics your target audience has. Let me exemplify the risk with a short example:

Assume you want to create a platform for parents. You immediately start to interview your customers to uncover their problems and talk to about 10 of your most frequent users who are willing to talk to you. All of them were married mothers with two or more kids. As you do not know if your target audience also contains single mothers, one-child parents, or single fathers you miss their needs completely if they are not in line with those of married mothers with two or more kids.

Without a definition of who your target customers are, it is impossible to ensure complete coverage of them in your research.

Step 2: Choose the correct Research Method

There are many ways to conduct research and almost all methods could be used to uncover user needs. But there are just a few that you need to know to get enough insights to understand what tasks your solution should accomplish for your ideal consumer. 

The Look-Ask-Try Framework by Dean Srikant Datar is a great model to think about the methods you should use. 


Start your research by gathering all the information that is already available about your customer needs. The following sources could be used to find valuable information:

  • Facebook groups
  • Topic-specific Subreddit
  • X (Twitter) Hashtags
  • Quora
  • Online Forums
  • Magazines that target your audience
  • Reviews of existing products 

Through the whole process be open for unexpected behaviors or needs that you encounter. Search for: 

  • Questions that come up often because that usually indicates that there is a problem.
  • Existing solutions or “hacks” that are currently used to solve problems
  • Discussions about their buying decision  
  • Expression of feelings about your main problem or topic

There are two reasons why this phase is helpful in your method mix. You can find latent needs that are hard to articulate in an interview and you do not have can use existing data instead of collecting it only for your research.


Personally, I believe the most important methods belong to this category and if you only want to do one method to understand your customers then it should be customer interviews. 

A customer needs assessment should contain some kind of qualitative research. The easiest way to accomplish that is through customer interviews. Usually, non-research professionals have a hard time conducting and analyzing interviews to gain value from them. But as they are the most powerful tool to uncover unknowns it is worth the effort. To get comfortable with Interviewing I highly recommend Deploy Empathy by Michele Hansen.

The interviews will uncover more latent and unexpected needs and will give valuable insights on how to understand the expected ones. Usually, 5 - 10 customer interviews will reveal most problems that occur in your target audience. Make sure to talk to your whole target group as some of them are usually harder to talk to than others. You can try to recruit interview partners through your website visitors, ask in forums or on social media, or use a research panel like Be careful with the latter as it is harder to find real potential customers for your solution on those sites.  

The insights from the interviews should serve as a basis for a targeted questionnaire. A survey in general is great to discover the frequency of the underlying user needs and can help to find connections between them. Use some open-ended questions to collect an unbiased selection of answers or if you do not feel comfortable giving answer options. A survey tool like Typeform can be implemented easily and for free on your website. But if you do not have enough visitors you might want to pay for survey participants on sites like Make sure to include screening questions if you use those sites to reach the correct group.


By now you should already have enough data to analyze most customer needs. The methods in this section however can help to understand how your customer might feel and how their journeys look.

The goal of this step is to put yourself in the shoes of your customers. Even if you might not gain a lot of additional latent or explicit needs from that last step, it is supporting the overall understanding of your findings. 

The best part is that to accomplish this one can just be their own customer. In most cases, this is quite easy. But to get valuable insights consider these tips:

  • make sure you formulate the underlying situation you are in before you start. This includes the problem you are having as well as the location and time.
  • As you know your business way better than others do not rush through the process.
  • Try to be open-minded about unpleasant experiences.

This step can be done very quickly but it also has its drawbacks. You are likely biased in your view and it is always best to be as close to the real world as possible when it comes to research.

To gain a deep understanding of your customer‘s needs consider conducting field research. Instead of mocking the customer journey field research could be done by joining real consumers in their journey and looking them over their shoulder. 

Step 3: Analyze Data

Analyzing research data usually depends on the methods used to gather them and is a topic of its own. It is however a step that could single-handedly ruin all the efforts that were put into gathering the data. Furthermore, this step is commonly done wrong if not conducted by experts.

If you are not a research professional I would recommend sticking to a very simple technique that enables you to gain valuable insights from all data no matter what other methods have been used. 

The steps described above result in qualitative and quantitative data. Everything except for survey data belongs to the former category. Go through all texts from interviews, online analysis, or field studies and try to group everything into topic clusters. Then refine those clusters to come up with a detailed picture of all mentioned aspects. 

Most survey tools already provide an aggregated overview of the results. But for open-ended questions categorizing and clustering need to be done manually. Nowadays ChatGPT does a decent job of clustering those topics. I still believe a human can do a way better job but it is still a good starting point and saves a lot of time.  

Step 4: Communicate Findings

The results should be verbalized or visualized to offer the whole team a good basis for future business decisions. As time goes you will benefit from that step as it is impossible to remember everything you found and in the day-to-day business, there is rarely time to go through all the data again. 

Make it a habit to create a document or presentation soon after your analysis to keep everything fresh. In my experience, the findings should be presented in a meeting as it is the best way to ensure everyone takes time to study the findings.

A great way to verbalize user needs for the whole team is to create user personas. The concept of user personas stems from design thinking and can help to keep all customer needs in mind in important product decisions. A user persona is a fictitious customer that gets a name, a backstory and some of the user needs you uncovered. 

In later discussions, you can then refer to the user Max or Sara that you created, and everybody can think through the situation from this exact user persona. 

Types of Needs

Before you start your customer needs analysis it could be helpful to be aware of the different types of consumer needs. This will sharpen your skills to prepare questions and analyze the data. 

There are 3 types of customer needs are:

  • functional: Functional customer needs are tasks that your solution should accomplish. Like having a credit card that is accepted at your favorite stores.
  • emotional: Emotional customer needs are feelings your consumers like to feel when purchasing the product. Like feeling healthy after ordering a salad. 
  • Social: Social customer needs are desires that are related to the user's social life. Like owning a car that shows a certain attitude toward the environment to friends and family. 


Conducting a customer needs assessment also known as a customer needs analysis is a crucial foundation for any business success. Although some customer needs may be obvious without research, there is a lot to discover if the right methods are applied. While customer needs analysis might sound intimidating, the well-structured process can be completed by anyone. 

The 4 steps to find your user’s needs are:

  • Define a target audience
  • Chose the correct research method
  • Analyze data
  • Communicate findings  

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